Dems ask Mnuchin to probe Russian investment in state election tech

Dems ask Mnuchin to probe Russian investment in state election tech
© Anna Moneymaker

Maryland Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOn The Money: GOP angst grows over Trump's trade war | Trump promises help for 'Patriot Farmers' | Markets rebound | CBO founding director Alice Rivlin dies | Senate to vote on disaster aid bill next week Senators offer bipartisan retirement savings bill Top Finance Dem offers bill to help those repaying student loans save for retirement MORE and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenMnuchin signals administration won't comply with subpoena for Trump tax returns Dem lawmakers urge FCC to scrutinize broadcast workforce diversity Senate fails to override Trump's Yemen veto MORE, both Democrats, asked Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada READ: Mnuchin refuses to provide Trump's tax returns Treasury Department rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns MORE on Tuesday to review a Russian oligarch’s investment in a company that runs part of the state’s election system.

In a letter, Cardin and Van Hollen asked Mnuchin to scrutinize venture fund AltPoint Capital’s investment in ByteGrid through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS). The panel, chaired by the Treasury secretary, reviews foreign acquisitions of U.S. businesses for national security risks.

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The senators’ letter comes as federal and state law enforcement officials prepare to fight attempts by foreign nations to influence or hack the upcoming midterm elections.

“Access to these systems could provide a foreign person with ties to a foreign government with information that could be used for intelligence or other purposes adverse to U.S. interests,” Cardin and Van Hollen wrote.

“We know that our elections are under threat from foreign cyberattacks and disinformation efforts. Our democratic process can also be manipulated through foreign investment in elections infrastructure.”

AltPoint Capital holds an ownership stake in ByteGrid, which hosts Maryland’s voter registration system, candidacy and election management system, online ballot delivery system and unofficial election night results website. AltPoint’s largest investor is Vladimir Potanin, who is reportedly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Maryland officials have expressed fears that their state’s election system could be compromised through the Russia connection to ByteGrid. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) began an investigation of the firm hours after special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“Even the appearance of the potential for bad actors to have any influence on our election infrastructure could undermine public trust in the integrity of our election system,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last month.

Annie Eissler, chief marketing officer for ByteGrid, told Maryland officials that the company’s investors “have no involvement or control in company operations,” according to The Baltimore Sun.

Cardin and Van Hollen asked Mnuchin to begin a CFIUS review of Potanin’s connection to ByteGrid and intervene if it poses a threat to U.S. national security or critical infrastructure.

The committee has blocked or effectively killed several planned foreign acquisitions of U.S. tech companies, primarily by Chinese firms, during President TrumpDonald John TrumpComey: Barr is 'sliming his own department' GOP Mueller critic says Flynn contacted him during special counsel probe: report Acting DHS secretary threatened to quit after clashing with Miller: report MORE’s first term. The panel has received bipartisan support from lawmakers concerned about the country’s ability to stave off espionage and intellectual property theft from U.S rivals.

Congress boosted CFIUS’s powers in a massive defense spending bill that Trump is expected to sign within days. The bill expands the scope of deals that CFIUS can inspect and block to investments touching critical infrastructure, which can include technology used to conduct elections.